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Afghans Here Want Their Voices Heard Back Home

June 08, 2002|MILTON CARRERO GALARZA and SCOTT MARTELLE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The last time Southern California's Afghans came together for an election, more insults were cast than votes.

On Friday, it was a different story.

More than 265 Afghan immigrants and Afghan Americans showed up at the Sayed Jamoladean Mosque in Orange to vote for 10 regional members of a planned 40-member national council that organizers hope will become the voice of Afghan Americans.

Afghan community leaders developed plans for the council to represent the interests of Afghan Americans to emerging political leaders in Afghanistan, and to advise on how best to rebuild the nation.

Friday's vote was an exercise in democracy and an expression of solidarity as voters chose who would become their collective voice, organizers and voters said.

"This council will be able to help the Afghan community here because many of them have lived here and over there and know how to lobby Congress and to be a voice," said Wazhma Noorzayee, 22, a political science major at UC Irvine.

"In America, everything that is effective has to be done in groups."

The community first tried to elect representatives in February, but that Laguna Hills meeting was abandoned minutes after it began when arguments, heckling and scuffling broke out among the 1,000 people packed into a room designed to hold 700.

Some of the venom came from old arguments from home as critics condemned creation of the council as an effort by established Afghan American families to solidify control. Others were accused of being pro-Taliban.

When private security guards couldn't control the crowd, Orange County sheriff's deputies shut down the meeting.

The atmosphere Friday was decidedly different. Voters and some candidates milled about talking and noshing on kebabs near voting tables set up in a parking lot outside the mosque.

The mood was congenial and hopeful.

"We live here in the United States so we can have an influence on Afghan policy, but we will not have a direct impact," said Kabir Mohmand, a Web page designer from Santa Ana who is a candidate for the council.

"We hope one day we will have a government [in Afghanistan] that will listen to us."

Anyone age 18 or older born in Afghanistan or with a parent born in Afghanistan is eligible to vote, organizers said.

Voting continues from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at the Family Market on Reseda Boulevard in Northridge, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Tawhid Mosque in San Diego.

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